[Last week!] Okay, remember how the Governor sicced his BFF/Head Nerd on his annoyingly good girlfriend then killed his own people? And then disappeared for months? This episode is all about those months. And because I know fandom, I’m sure most people hated this episode, called it “slow” or “unnecessary,” and I would like to prove you wrong. (Also, if you don’t think the Governor is one of the best, most intriguing villains on TV – now that Walter White is gone – then you’re not paying close enough attention.)
After the Gov killed his girlfriend, attacked the prison, shot down his own people (remember Karen hiding under a dead body?) and Martinez gave him the stink eye of “I left my new best friend Daryl Dixon for you?” from their truck, they then drive off to make camp in an open field. The Gov stares into the fire late into the night thinking of his life and choices and how he can be a better man. I’m just kidding, he’s totally dead inside at this point. A Walker shambles out of the dark in a maxi-dress–
Protip: In an End Times/Apocalyptic Hellscape environment, you want to dress for success. No long skirts (no skirts, actually. Sorry Mennonites/Amish/Fundamentalist Mormons), no long hair in braids (Michonne is the only exception), and no clothing that can be easily grabbed. Short or bound hair – like in a French Braid with the ends tucked under is best. Coated twill in a slim fit will last the longest. Or try pants made from the hide of your enemies.
–while the Gov does nothing, ‘cuz his mind’s a burning hell. And like a Melissa Etheridge song, she walks across the fire for him, falling into it while still reaching for his sweet, sweet flesh. While he does nothing. Again. She’s all “Hey! Undead here? Kind of a big deal? The least you could do is loo–”
BANG! Martinez comes out of his tent and shoots her in the brain, giving the Gov even more stink eye, then goes back into his tent to find Bowman with a Cootie Catcher (also known as a fortune teller).
Martinez picks the picture of a dismembered leg. Bowman opens the Cootie Catcher up, across, up, and Martinez picks the 3. Behind the fold it reads: “Sneak out in the middle of the night and leave the Gov.”
And they do.
The Gov looks around, trying to figure out what next. He hops in the 18-Wheeler abandoned by their camp site and plows through the Woodbury gates, then sets everything on fire as the Walkers shamble about his once-proud town. If he can’t have Woodbury, no one can have Woodbury.
We hear a Voice Over as time passes, showing us a seriously bedraggled Governor, hairy, thin, barely on his feet. First thing I thought of when I saw ol’ Patch Eyed McBeardsley was how he looked like a low-rent version of Kurt Russell’s Snake Plissken from the Escape from All The Places movies. Second thing I thought of was how Kurt Russell really likes wearing eye patches.
He passes a barn that has messages written all over it – one name in particular stands out: Brian Hariot. It’s clear people loved him, people wanted him to make it.
As the VO continues, we learn that he’s been on the road alone for months after living “in a town.” The female voice asks if the monsters were there, was it dangerous? “No. I AM THE DANGER,” he should have said. (Except he doesn’t think of himself like that. He’s more “You want me on that wall, you need me on that wall,” I think.) He explains that the “man in charge” just lost it, and he barely got out of there alive. Wow, that is some serious disassociation, Gov.
He finds a street with buildings on it. He’s so beat down that he moves like Jagger a Walker, looks like a Walker. One comes at him and he barely moves out of its way. There’s a girl in a window watching him, and it’s like a flame of life lights him up. We then see him inside the building with a flashlight, trying to find her when a door opens. There are two women, the girl from the window, and an elderly and infirm man inside. He tosses his weapons to them, and they let him in, and I am tearing at my face because THIS IS A BAD MAN, LADIES, HOW ARE YOU STILL ALIVE.
They’ve been holed up this whole time living on Slim Jims and Beenie Weenies. One of the sisters claims to be an Atlanta Police Officer (uh huh) and threatens him on the chance that he tries anything funny. She then asks him to pound it, and his eyes roll so hard that I got a headache. They’ll keep his weapons until he leaves, and that’s a nice little bit of payback for him, says I.
Protip: When holding down a secure location, you do not want to jeopardize your safety, nor the safety of those in your care, by allowing outsiders in without having been fully vetted. Strip search, the Three Questions, locked up until they’re proven themselves healthy and sane. Something more than “You some kinda bone head?” Nawsir! “Okay, then!” is necessary in a dystopian future world of death and survival.
He tells the women that his name is Brian, because he wants to believe he’s someone that people cared about. He retires to the room across the hall and dives into some cat food (at first I thought it was a square tin of sardines, but then they cut back and it’s round, ground cat food. Mmm, Nine Lives! Also, whoops on the continuity, Show) when Sister #1 – who looks like Maggie, amirite? – arrives with a plate of what is clearly Spaghetti-os, but she says they’re butter beans. He thanks her, waits for her to leave, then dumps the food out of the window because that Nine Lives isn’t going to eat itself. (Also, there could be poison in that sketti. Or, you know, obligation.)
He brings them their plate later that night (little girl – Megan – is playing backgammon with her grandpa while the sisters chill out) and snaps into a Slim Jim while they tell their story. (The world ended. They survived. Not everyone’s story is gripping.)
They need to move Gramps and ask the Gov for help. He grabs up Gramps bridal-style and takes him to his bed. (Not like that.) Some banging can be heard upstairs and we learn:
- Cop Sis doesn’t know to shoot the Walkers in the head
- she’s wasting bullets a lot (maybe their arsenal isn’t as huge as she implied)
- a man’s worth comes from raising capable children (ouch, that’s not fair)
- there’s a backgammon game not missing any pieces up in 303
Gramps hits the Gov square in the “baby girl” feels – every southern man has these – so he goes up to the third floor to help out little Megan have a board game that’s complete. After passing a few prosthetic legs – hmm – he digs under a bed and finds a box of ammo and the game. And in the shower he finds Gramps’ old buddy, legless and Undead. The man clearly took his own life, turned, and has been trapped there for months, which is why I call bullshit on his still being propped up in a slippery bathtub.
Look, I am “able-bodied” and not undead, and I can barely stay propped up in a bathtub. Then again, I’m a bit of an idiot, so YMMV.
The Gov takes the pistol the man used to kill himself, and I officially have the heebie jeebies because you just don’t know with this guy. The game is delivered, his usefulness and helpfulness is now cemented with these overly trusting folks, and he retires to his room to erase himself from his last picture of his wife and Penny. (We all thought Megan resembled Penny, right?)
I loved that moment because it shows us that he’s not pure evil. No one usually is. It’s far more interesting to me when someone has a kernel of goodness inside of them that constantly wars with the evil actions they do. It makes the bad all the more bad. (Like salt on caramel enhancing its sweetness. Mm, caramel.) His love for his daughter, his drive to do anything necessary out of love for her makes the torture, the murders, the almost-rapes all the more awful, right?
The next morning, Sis #1 brings him a sack lunch (crusts cut off and a “good luck on the road! [doodle of tree]” on a napkin) and gives him back his weapons. Eh, he found a new one, so they should keep those. Also, they should be shooting Walkers/Biters in the brain, and why they haven’t figured this out over the last year is beyond me. Sis explains that their dad has only a few days left to live, but could have more if they could get some O2 tanks from the Elder Care facility a block off, and gosh that sure would make Megan feel better to have her Grandpappy around that much longer… Again with the Baby Girl Feels [TM] and he’s off.
This is so deliciously creepy, this building, because it’s filled with the forgotten members of our society, for one. Two, they haven’t forgotten us – nor their hunger for our flesh, muah ah ah! Some of them are trapped in wheelchairs or strapped to their beds for safety and I have in my notes: “THIS IS SO GRIM D: D: D:” If they’re in wheelchairs, he passes them by. If they’re mobile, he locks them in their rooms as he makes his way through the facility, finally finding a push cart of O2 tanks. And a bunch of turned orderlies. Crap! He grabs two tanks and takes off running after fighting a few off.
“Here’s your damn oxygen,” he grumbles, tossing them into their apartment before retiring to his. Guess he’s not leaving just yet. Sis #1 asks to play Nurse (hey, now! Except she was a nurse Before) and gives him some tenderness. That’s how they getcha, Gov. First it’s all “lemme give you Beenie Weenies,” then comes the Iodine with a Mom Blow/Hand Wave to cool the sting, and then you’re the Warren Jeffs to a wee harem.) Nurse Sis says he reminded Megan of her daddy, who left and never came back.
Did you need another helping of Baby Girl Feels, Gov? Because here comes Megan to be all guileless and charming, wanting to know how your eye got that way. “Well, I was obsessed with my daughter Penny, and kept her alive and rotting in a closet – like Harry Potter! You like Harry Potter, don’t you? – and even brushed her hair until her scalp started peeling off, when this Very Bad Lady found my fish tanks full of heads and stabbed my little girl through the brain with a katana, that’s like a samurai sword. But I don’t want you playing with those, because you could hurt yourself, sweetheart. I got mad at that Very bad Lady and tried to take away her privileges – like living – when she stabbed out my eye, such a naughty girl!”
Okay, he doesn’t say that, but we know the truth. An amazing thing in this moment is that the little girl makes him laugh – a real laugh, not on at someone’s expense. And we’re also reminded of just how delusional the Gov is, how he has to be delusional in order to keep on surviving. He’s the good guy of his world. He’s the hero. He’s been misunderstood and mistreated by bad people. He does have morals – they’re just twisted beyond recognition.
Later, he gives Megan a lesson in chess when she takes the King and draws an eye patch on it and wins everyone’s hearts, awwww! Oh, you just know he loves that. And in his mind, he’s the White King and Michonne is the Black Queen (who can go anywhere on the board, unless blocked by the Knight – Daryl) when the Gov is really a Rook. He can go in two directions: to someone he’s obsessed with/loves or to kill those who messed with them.
I love how he explains, “You can lose a lot of soldiers but still win the game.” And then what, buddy? You hit checkmate but there’s no one left standing. So…then what?
Time passes and Gramps has died, apparently while sleeping peacefully. The Gov knows what’s about to happen and wants them to leave so he can “take care of it,” but they don’t get it. Seriously, how have they survived as long as they have? Of course Gramps turns, grabs Cop Sis (worst. cop. ever.), and Gov saves the day by braining Gramps with his oxygen tank. What kept him alive was his undoing… He and Nurse Sis bury Gramps outside. Later, Cop Sis thanks him, says Gramps would have been grateful, and all the women smile beguilingly at him. Gross. (Sorry, but I need them to actually BE bad asses, not front like Cop Sis has been doing. Don’t look to a man to save you, come on, ladies!)
The Gov burns his family picture, because he’s got a new one now, right? Pfft, just like a middle-aged man, trading in a forty for two twenties. Daddy has a new family now. Instead of him leaving on his own, they tag along in the snack truck to find a new place to live, one without so many bad memories, I suspect. There’s more to life than an old apartment filled with Walkers.
I love how helpless the Gov is against his want for what he had. He had a good life, a good wife and daughter, safe home, security. He wants that again so badly. And here is a new family offering themselves up on a platter for him.
Cop Sis reveals she was just a cadet, and now that everyone’s told their secrets (ha, the Gov hasn’t), they can be a real family now. Why, Nurse Sis and the Gov even make it more real with a little chicky-bow-wow in the back of the truck, even while Megan and Cadet Sis snooze right next to them after Nurse Sis makes the universal sign of bone me: her back against his front, coy look over the shoulder move. Classic.
Here’s my thought when this happened: the sisters are necessary collateral in order for him to have Penny 2.0. He doesn’t really care about the sex, about the companionship. He was born to be a Daddy and that’s what he wants: a little girl to love. Not in a real Humbert Humbert way (thank GOD, because I would divorce this show and key its car, but they are some definite overtones with the Mom lure -ack, live bait – and all) but in a true “I want to have a daughter to love and cherish” way. Which is why his evil is magnified, because that’s such a pure, sweet love, a father for his daughter. And wow, does he twist it!
Further in time, the truck won’t start, so they have to abandon it to find a new one. And walk right into a herd of Walkers. SHIT. And of course Cadet Sis twists her ankle, leaving Nurse Sis to help hold her up as they take off running, the Gov with Megan in his arms. They race past the sisters and fall into a pit filled with Walkers.
At the sound of Megan’s scream, the Gov snaps and kills all four Walkers with his bare hands. Well, he peels one Walker’s head off with a bone (and did you think of Beetlejuice here? Just me?) after ripping its throat out barehanded. He grabs his Baby Girl up and promises that he’ll never let anything bad happen to her, and I got some serious “Even if that means killing your own mother” vibes, because this is the Governor we’re talking about here.
We hear machine-gun fire before someone peers into the ravine. And it’s Martinez. He looks down at them in his pit with something akin to disgust and shock as he says, “Ho. Lee. Shit.”
So here’s why all of this was necessary, and remember that I often come to this show as a writer, and not just as an enthusiastic viewer (which I also am!). If we picked up from the week before with the Gov peering at the prison, then they go into battle straight from that point, it’s a no brainer. We want Rick’s team to win, obviously, so where’s the emotional peril for us as viewers beyond not wanting our “team” to get hurt? We’ve already been there, done that.
Now there’s a little ambiguity thrown in. There is some measure of goodness to the Governor, to the point where he’s drawn new people into his web, people who are good and worth our affection and worry. Cadet Sis, Nurse Sis (I know they have names, but until they make it past an episode, I’m not getting emotionally invested) and Megan are good people. Dumb and too trustworthy given the world they live in, but they’re good people. And they’re being led by someone awful, but someone who truly wants them to make it. Well, Megan at least. I don’t think he gives two shits about the sisters.
Again, I think they’re…wait for it…live bait. I’m still not completely sure what he’s trying to catch. It’s not Megan – I think it’s a recreation of what Woodbury started out as, but without that whole “My daughter turned and things went to hell in a handbasket” thing.
And Martinez proved to be a good guy trapped in a bad situation, didn’t he? He and Daryl would have been BFF, had things not ended up as they had. We don’t know anything about Martinez’s new group, about their goodness, their ruthlessness, nothing.
Giving us as viewers more story is always the better choice. It’s always better to have more character study, more understanding of who these people are – who they were and what led them to where they are now – so that when they all interact, it matters to us.
If the Gov was just straight bad, we wouldn’t care. If we didn’t know Rick’s story, Michonne’s story, Carol’s story, Daryl freaking Dixon’s story, we wouldn’t care about them. No one cared about Carl until he stopped disobeying the order to get in the house and started being a person with flaws, a person who made excruciating choices and had to live with them. Watching these characters make these decisions for good or bad and seeing how they affect the group (as well as themselves) is what makes this show so richly rewarding.
And Melissa McBride’s name was still in the credits, so we’re going to see more of Carol living with her choices, too, I think. Which is a great thing.
Okay, lemme have it. (Remember that I don’t actually want you to just bitch about things. That’s what all of the rest of the internet is for, quite literally.) I love this show, and I want to share that love with YOU. So! What is making you think? What is making you care? What is getting you worked up? How in love with David Morrisey are you? Because that man is such a careful, thoughtful actor, I just want to listen to him talk about the Governor for hours.